Changes to MFP formula means $1.2 mil loss in Plaq. schoolsMay 10th, 2012 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: news
If the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (BESE) new financial formula for school funding is passed by the legislature with the 2012-2013 state budget bill, HB 1, the district could lose $1.2 million in funding, according to Ronald White, Director of Finance for the Plaquemines Parish School System.
The Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula is the primary source of state and local funding for Louisiana public schools, and is adjusted yearly to determine tax revenue distribution to school districts.
In March, the BESE board adjusted the 2012 – 2013 MFP formula to include the funding for Legacy Type II charter schools. Including these schools into the MFP pot means the amount of state money schools receive is going to be much lower than 2011- 2012 amounts.
There are eight Legacy Type II charter schools in Louisiana, including Belle Chasse Academy on the NAS JRB, a legacy school because it was chartered prior to July 1, 2008. The 2011 − 2012 law states that these schools are funded by “the state Department of Education using state funds specifically for this purpose.”
In March, that law was amended by the controversial educational reform bill HB 976, resulting in these eight schools getting state funds through the MFP formula. The way local funds are dispersed was also changed by HB 976. The law now states that local tax revenue follow the public school student to whichever school they plan to attend, even if that is in another parish.
The formula change was approved in the education bill, HB 976, but because it has funding implications, it has to be approved in HB 1, the state budget.
“In addition to the apparent reduction of $300,000 in our funding to pay for the state share of costs, we are also projected to have our funding reduced by nearly $900,000 as a local contribution to the funding for Belle Chasse Academy,” White explained. “This amount is based on our local revenues of $10,144 per pupil (as determined by the formula) multiplied by 85 students at Belle Chasse Academy who live in Plaquemines Parish, but not on the base.”
The charter school in Plaquemines Parish is a unique one: Belle Chasse Academy is one of the only Legacy Type II charter schools in the U.S. situated on a military base. White cites this circumstance as grounds to exempt the Plaquemines Parish School District from contributing to the state fund that in this regard would benefit charter schools like BCA.
White explained that there are many variables involved in the MFP formula, and even the slightest change can produce a major shift in funding.
“My personal opinion is that with so many moving parts in the MFP formula, when they make a change, the formula may produce unexpected results,” White explained. “In fact, I asked the State Superintendent of Education if this was the ‘law of unintended consequences’ in action, but his response was that the consequences were intended.”
The “intended consequences” White refers to is in regards to the concept of local tax revenue following the student, set up with the intention of giving parents more educational choice.
This poses a problem for BCA, because many BCA students come from neighboring parishes with lower tax revenue than Plaquemines Parish. Therefore, the money coming to BCA this year is going to be significantly lower, according to Belle Chasse Academy Director of Operations Joe Bekeris.
“As a Type II Charter School we have no geographical boundary for the admission of our students,” Bekeris explained. “We will now receive funding that reflects the Parish funding rate where the student lives instead of the Plaquemines Parish rate for all students. Since the Plaquemines Parish rate is higher than the other Parishes, we will have a reduction in our overall funding amount. We will have to adjust our budget to meet the new funding level.”
“BESE’s thinking is concerned with the big picture, abstract concepts and numbers on spreadsheets, while our concerns are with actual dollar, actual salaries for actual school system employees and the actual education of actual students,” White stated.
Lottie Beebe, the BESE board representative for Plaquemines Parish and all of District 3, voted against the formula because she felt there was not enough time for board members to properly review and analyze how this would effect their constituents.
“The haste by which this was passed through is a travesty,” Beebe affirmed. “I received the proposal on a Saturday afternoon, and we voted on it the following Monday after a public hearing with limited discussion. I objected based on the fact that I didn’t have time to talk to the 15 parishes in my district about how this could effect them.”
“The devil is in the details and many of the details are still murky,” Beebe continued. “The Senate Education Chair argued that you can’t fix poverty but you can fix the education system— I am not against education reform, but I have been in the trenches as an educator for 27 years and know that we need to address these larger issues that have a major effect on our children.”
In regards to the haste by which the formula was passed through and voted on, State Rep. Chris Leopold is also concerned. Leopold voted in favor of the educational reform bill HB 976, but feels the speed in which the MFP formula was approved and put into HB 1 is concerning and is opposed to the formula change.
“It was put through during all the press about the voucher and teacher tenure bills, which was the perfect storm,” said Leopold. “Plaquemines Parish School District shouldn’t be penalized for doing its job. We went from the 11th to 5th highest district in the state.”
According to Beebe, the reduction in funds to public school districts will effect such public school programs as pre-k education, accelerated reader and more. Beebe and White both stated that a backlash is expected, as it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on districts to balance their already tight budgets.
Superintendent of Schools Denis Rousselle said during the April school board meeting that he was planning to meet in Thibodaux with several other district superintendents to discuss taking legal action against the state, and he is expect to have more details on that in time for the next school board meeting, May 7.
“We as a district will consider if we want to get into that legal fight,” Rousselle asserted. “The more pressure we put on Baton Rouge, the more we stand a chance.”
In the meantime, he urged residents to contact their local representatives and encourage them to oppose the MFP formula, and get it taken out of HB 1. If enough contention is raised about the MFP formula change, it is taken out of HB 1 and goes back to the BESE board for revisions. If revisions are not made in time for the HB 1 vote, traditionally held at the end of each session, the previous year’s formula is put in place.
The next regularly scheduled Plaquemines Parish School Board meeting is May 7 at 6 p.m. at Belle Chasse High School.